The high multiples offered to thrifts last year are becoming a distant memory - a shift underscored last week by the decision of WSFS Financial Corp. of Delaware not to sell.
The $1.2 billion-asset Wilmington institution said that none of the expressions of interest it had received in recent months were much higher than its stock's recent trading price. As a result, the thrift will remain independent.
"It's sort of a sign of the times," said Arnold Danielson, president of Danielson Associates Inc., in Rockville, Md. "What it says is that the prices being offered for thrifts are not the high numbers we once saw, and that the big guys are not just throwing money around anymore."
WSFS' stock fell 69 cents to $8 in Nasdaq trading during the two days following the announcement last week. The stock had traded as high as $10 when the thrift announced last summer it had hired Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. to explore selling opportunities.
Officials and analysts said that the timing is probably not right for a sale for several reasons. For one, some of the usual acquirers in the area themselves have been bought, such as First Fidelity Bancorp of Newark, N.J. Others, such as First Union Corp. of Charlotte and CoreStates Financial Corp. of Philadelphia, are too busy digesting recent acquisitions.
Alex Hart, analyst at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. in Baltimore, said the lack of a resolution from Congress on the future of the Savings Association Insurance Fund has also cooled the thrift market at the moment.
"If it were my decision, I wouldn't walk into an unquantified liability," Mr. Hart said. "I really don't think that we will have much success with thrift acquisitions until the SAIF issue is resolved."
With buyers becoming pickier, thrifts wind up on the bottom of the list, particularly with their higher-cost deposits and mortgages, Mr. Danielson added.
WSFS officials said they are focusing now on long-range plans, but would still consider offers. With 43% of the company's stock in the hands of the board, the directors have the shareholders' interests at heart, said Marvin N. Schoenhals, WSFS' chief executive.
"It was our assessment that our shareholders are best served by remaining independent," Mr. Schoenhals said. "We believe that the value of the company with its earning power is better than the indication of value received from potential acquirers."